Primates and the Forgotten Coast have long been synonymous to area locals. Since the early 1940s when the original Tarzan film was shot in Wakulla Springs, the lore has been that monkeys escaped during filming to set up shop in the woodland areas of the Gulf Coast. And who could blame them? With sugar sand, crystal clear water, and temps that stay agreeable year-round, it should come as no surprise that the ape actors decided to make the vacation from Hollywood a permanent one.
For decades, the legend endured, though the curious creatures remained hidden from plain sight, with only their bellows emanating from the forest serving as the hint to their continued coastal occupation. However, beginning in December 2015, monkey sightings rose to the forefront of Forgotten Coast discussion. The proud owner of a prehensile tail was on the move yet again in the area, this time with a pretty specific craving: Birdseed.
Spotted by a local Carrabelle man at his home in December 2015, the primate helped itself to a serving of seed from the man’s birdfeeder. The monkey ripped the top of the feeder clean off and noshed away, only stopping when the homeowner came outside and startled it. Like a flash, the monkey was gone.
The swinging sensation was on the move. From that December until the summer of 2016, what was determined to be a Rhesus monkey was spotted some 22 times. Two of those sightings were listed as “possible,” and two more—in Panacea and Alligator Point—were verified. Sightings were logged in Sopchoppy, Eastpoint, Crawfordville, Carrabelle, Lanark Village, St. Teresa, Alligator Point, and Panacea—but the real performance occurred at the Carrabelle River. It was there that the monkey put on a death-defying show for 40 onlookers. The creature started with a launch from a Carrabelle bridge to a tall pine tree, then back to the bridge, and finally back into the tree where it launched itself from limb to limb until it disappeared from its captive audience’s sight.
With such a wide span of monkey sightings occurring around the Forgotten Coast, no one can be certain if the monkey acted alone or if more than one primate had come to call the region home. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission urged the public not to try to touch the hirsute beachcomber, instead encouraging folks to report the sightings and note as much detail as they could.
Rhesus monkeys are medium-sized primates that range from 1.5 to 1.7 feet in height and weigh anywhere from 12 to 17 lbs. when fully grown. Though they are primarily herbivores, the monkeys are wild and should not be pursued by human beings. Whether these creatures are descendants of the Tarzan-era thespian bunch or a new breed of coastal critters is unknown. For now, we can assume the primal calls in the Florida forests are much more than the stuff of Forgotten Coast imagination.
We may never know for certain what calls the wild acrobats to the Gulf Coast. Sightings have diminished since the summertime, but just in case, keep your eyes peeled and your birdfeeders guarded!